Seth sat on a stool, head down, eating the noodle equivalent of particle board steeped in salt water. The tiny discount eatery in the open market was as full of smoke that smelled like a chemical fire as it was crowded at this late hour. He could hardly shovel his meal into his mouth without splashing it all over his chin, what with the throng of grimy bodies jostling behind him like a river fit for rafting. He lifted his bowl to have another bite when a hard slap on his back caused him to spill the smelly contents down his shirt.
“Oh, sorry about that Seth. Let me buy you another.”
“Oh no!” He knew that voice anywhere. Nothing in this city was dirtier than something that looked clean. He popped onto his feet, but that hand, still on his back, shoved him back down.
It was detective Palmera. He wedged himself onto the stool beside Seth, and in the same motion flashed his badge at the cook and held up two fingers—two more orders, on the house, please and thank you.
“Look, I’m just having a bite and minding my own business here,” Seth said. “I’ve been clean since I got out. I did my time.” He traced little circles with his plump fingers across the countertop, head down, breath hot and stinking.
“You mean you don’t even have time for an old friend like me?” Palmera asked.
“I don’t have any friends, least of all not a crook like you. Can I go now, or am I being charged with something?”
The detective held one hand to his heart and the other in the air. “Seth, that hurts. How can I be a crook, hmmm?” He slammed his hand down on the counter, sending drinks and bowls and utensils clattering away like frightened children. His voice grew harsh like whiskey and asphalt. “I AM the fucking law, you piece of shit. Don’t ever forget it.”
The proprietor chef brought out two bowls of steaming noodles that smelled like asparagus piss. Palmera brightened up and grinned from one cauliflower ear to the other.
“Come on, eat up, Seth! I know you haven’t lost your appetite,” he said with a chuckle.
Seth gulped it down as fast as his body would let him. He scalded his tongue; it would feel like inflamed sandpaper for days. He sat quietly with his head down, waiting for permission to leave.
Without turning from his food, Palmera slipped an envelope from his jacket onto Seth’s lap.
“Shut up, Seth. Take it to Caster, and don’t fucking open it.” He dropped his bowl and grabbed Seth by the chin, forcing him to make eye contact. “Don’t. Open it. Now get the fuck out of here.”